CLEVELAND - There would've been more of a Groundhog Day feel to things if the Nets threw out a semi-recognizable starting lineup, like the multimillion-dollar quintet they trotted out here some 24 weeks ago.
Instead, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were glorified cheerleaders Wednesday night, watching from the bench as the Nets wrapped up their crazy regular season with a 114-85 loss to the Cavaliers with a lineup that was also devoid of Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston.
The Nets' season of great expectations hit unexpected turbulence early on and that unimpressive 10-21 start had people wondering if this nearly $200 million chemistry experiment was going to work. But in reversing course and stockpiling a 34-17 mark over these final four months, they vaulted themselves into the postseason conversation again, and their journey begins as the sixth seed against the third-seeded Raptors at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors fell to the Knicks Wednesday night, but claimed the No. 3 seed when the Bulls lost to the Bobcats.
Toronto (48-34), led by its speedy backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, split the four-game season series with the Nets (44-38) and Terence Ross is about to get his wish. He said in a web chat last month that he'd prefer to play Brooklyn in the postseason.
"Ross asked for this, so first of all they've got to back up their words," said Andray Blatche, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds Wednesday night.
" . . . I feel like we have a great chance in this series. We are a veteran team and playoffs is not about speed and young. It's about veteran play and smartness, and I feel like we've been playing great basketball lately. Everyone is healthy right now and I feel like we are going to be successful."
Navigating through their rash of injuries certainly hasn't been easy, given they entered the night with 177 games missed because of a variety of ailments. But they've overcome what could've been a devastating blow once they lost talented 7-foot center Brook Lopez to a broken foot in December.
Only the Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Bulls and Rockets have posted a better record in 2014 than the Nets' 34-17 showing. So even though they've dropped four of their last five, causing some to believe they tanked to avoid the Bulls in the first round and set up a potential second-round series with the Heat, the Nets are brimming with confidence heading into the postseason.
"It's like a new season starts right now," Andrei Kirilenko said. "The season is always nice to have from the fans' perspective. You are playing just for the chance to play in the playoffs and right now it's different. Right now, every game counts, every possession, every set you play on the floor, it's important.
"And right now, it's going to be important for us to keep concentrating, keep our heads in the game and not allow them to drop because some of the games we just drop them."
Mason Plumlee is just glad he won't have to deal with something else dropping -- as in friends looking to crash things if the Nets wound up playing Chicago in the first round.
"It's good to know. Now I don't have to worry. I live kind of close to Chicago and everybody is like, 'Oh, can we come up for the game?' No, I'm going to Toronto. It's perfect. So I'm happy."
So, too, is Jason Kidd.
"I like where we are," the Nets coach said.
"We are in a good place and playing some pretty good basketball of late. We've rested and guys have gotten their work in at the same time. Now, it's time to figure out how to get a win on the road."